Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A friend of mine referred me to this article recently:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0%2C12271%2C1505997%2C00.html#article_continue

Perhaps some of you have heard of this man or of the FLDS before. I had not and find this rather scary. It is interesting how life throws little themes at you every now and then, though. This article is yet another in a stream of random encounters with cult religions I have been having recently. It started a couple of weeks ago with a case we debated in my medical ethics class regarding Jehova's Witnesses and their refusal of blood products. This sparked an interesting debate about the lines between religious devotion and psychologic delusion. Since then, this stuff has been rearing its head everywhere. Given the population of BJU grads posting here I am curious as to your thoughts on this matter. Can we declare one religion to be inherently less sensical than another? Is there a line someone can cross at which point their religious beliefs are considered absurd? What is more important, the doctrine or its implementation? In medical school we tend to believe patients have the right to make their own decisions about healthcare unless they are considered to be incapacitated to do so. In general we don't see refusal of blood products on religious grounds to be incapacity. But what about stranger beliefs? What about Christian Scientists who refuse all medical care? Or scientologists who believe they can heal themselves with thetan energy? Or Raelians who want to get in touch with the alien race that cloned humans? Can I segregate these beliefs on their merits and refer one for psychiatric treatment while granting the wishes of the other? Do I draw the line only when ones religious beliefs bring harm to another, like with the FLDS or fundamentalist sects of Islam? If so, am I obligated to fight against the religion that gave birth to the crime, or those who perpetrated the crime alone?

2 comments:

Becca said...

It's a common problem we wrestle with in both poli sci and law classes. Can religious beliefs be taken into account when we draw the illusive "reasonable man" test? The Supreme Court has come up with several different ways to deal with it, the most notable being the "compelling interest" test -- as long as the government has a legitimate secular interest and no less burdensome way of pursuing it, the government wins. Harsh, sometimes, but it seems to work. What's scary is how the government has been defining "legitimate secular interest" these days.

t said...

Giving the government power to regulate religious activity is like giving a teen a driver's license. Both are inevitable, so the goal should be to create a situation that minimizes possible harm.

Despite the SC's poor use of the test, I think the compelling interest test is better than relyong on how "reasonable" a faith is. Reason on such matters is inherently subjective and will lead to discrimination even by the best of judges.

Now, I do believe that Christianity is intellectually defensible on many levels, but I also admit that its claims cannot be proven by logic or observation. Judges are no more suited than anyone else to sort out what kinds of religous claims are more rational than others.

Oh, and in case anyone cared, the Constitution does not say "Congress shall make no law prohibting the free exercise of religions it thinks are rational;" it just says "the free exercise of religion." Not that anyone cares too much about what the text says these days.

The SC has done an acceptable job on this count, upholding some rather absurd religous practices such as Scientology or Cuban Sanatria, a mongrel of animism & Catholicism which includes animal sacrifice. Unfortunately, too many Christians don't see the importance of protecting odd religions like those. A couple of weeks ago a missionary to Russia spoke at my church, and responded to a question about Mormon & JW influence by saying that he watches how those groups are treated very closely and hopes, despite their heresy, they are tolerated, because he recognizes that whenever they are harassed, his church is next. Not enough American believers have that insight.